De Struise Brouwers, anno 2020

When I started drinking craft beers some years ago, De Struise Brouwers were right at the top of everyone’s list. They made innovative beers that broke the Belgian mould (The Belgian Mould being Blonde, Double, Tripel, sometimes a Quadrupel).

They made a stout, a fisherman’s ale, they did barrel aging, you name it.

They even had a high end range of the more expensive barrel aging and exclusive beers, sitting around € 40 per big bottle, and some € 25 for a small bottle of Black Damnation (from the top of my head). Pricy stuff, but apparently insanely good beers.

I never had those, but what I did do was buy more of the Pannepot Reservas in different vintages for aging several years and comparing how these hold up.

Then, a week or two ago, Drinks & Gifts, my local bottle shop, had a huge amount of new releases from De Struise Brouwers, and I decided to get all nine bottles of them. There were some more, but those were the really expensive ones. I wanted the more approachable lot.

I spent two weekends trying them all, to see where De Struise Brouwers now stand on my personal list of breweries.

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When trying these vintage Pannepot Reservas for a while, I found I was less and less enthusiastic about them. Aging didn’t do too much to them, and there’s a funky flavor that is unique and sort-of attractive, but also gets very one dimensional.

Unfortunately, I found that flavor in Kloeke Blonde as well. And in Xenophon’s Wine, and to lesser extent in the Ignis & Flamma, Sargasso and Blue Monk.

The Kloeke Blonde wasn’t very blond and didn’t really fit the category because it’s too rich, too funky. The Xenophon’s Wine and Sargasso are, honestly, a tad forgettable. One has a rum barrel aging that didn’t really give it that ‘barrel aged’ flavor profile that is what you want from it.

Ignis & Flamma, an IPA, was rather interesting though. I might be wrong but to me it tasted like an old fashioned English style of IPA, contrary to the hugely popular American style that every brewery makes nowadays. A bit more smooth, with a bit less focus on crispy hoppiness. I quite liked this one.

The Blue Monk is one I remember fondly from several years ago when it came out, but didn’t do anything for me this time around.

Interestingly, I did rate the beers rather highly, because they are still well made brews. They’re just not exceptional (as in, not 4+ on Untappd).

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Then the second weekend rolled around and I tried these four.

I started with the Pannepot Vintage. Mind, not the Pannepot Reserva Vintage! As I found out, I vastly prefer this one at the moment. It’s more rich and chocolatey, with far less of the funky, moldy style that comes with the Reserva.

The Black Albert has always been a favorite of mine, but I’m just a huge fan of English style beers, and big stouts like this fit that bill. This one is no different, although I have gotten spoiled over the last few years, with this making somewhat less of an impact than it did before. In regards to flavor that is, because the 13% ABV is still not something to scoff at.

Kill & Destroy is an IPA again. I figure I’d have an IPA last Saturday afternoon, because who doesn’t like an IPA in the sun? Luckily I checked the label before opening it, because I had never done so before and didn’t know this one sits at EIGHTEEN % alcohol. Holy shit this is some beer. Of course, it’s a tad gimmicky at that ABV, but it’s a nice change of pace with the high ABV beers from the usual stouts and barley wines. Big flavors, with the malt and alcohol bringing some sweetness to balance out the mountain op hops that are in it.

Robert the Great closed the line, and it is yet another stout. A bit different from the Black Albert, in this being a bit more malty, and a bit more rich. Another good beer, and also, as with all these four beers, far less focused on that funky flavor that I had come to associate with De Struise Brouwers.

Concluding:

While they didn’t exactly fall of their pedestal, they did take a step down. I’ve grown a bit tired of such a brewery specific flavor profile that pushes a lot of styles into a confusing middle ground.

Some beers are very good still, luckily, although it seems they’re better off brewing the English style compared to the Belgian style. A mixed bag, all in all.

The ones worthy of attention:

  • Robert the Great
  • Black Albert
  • Pannepot
  • Ignis & Flamma

The ones I’ll not be buying again:

  • Kloeke Blonde (just not a very good beer)
  • Sargasso (too dark and rich for a saison)
  • Blue Monk (already forgotten)
  • Xenophon’s Wine (already forgotten)
  • Kill & Destroy (too gimmicky)
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Talisker 15, 57.3% – Diageo Special Releases 2019

The Diageo Special Releases are always a thing to look forward to as summer approaches. As in, that’s generally when the announcement happens or there is some marketing leak in which they releases are listed.

When it happened last year, I was pretty happy with there being a Talisker 15 on the list, because that suggested an sort-of affordable whisky in that list that is not Lagavulin 12. Of course, until then there were heaps of Caol Ila Unpeated releases, but that was the one who shined in absence last year.

Eventually, when the Special Releases were actually made available, it was autumn, and I got my bottle of Talisker in the mail. Luckily, I had some friends over for a drink that same night and the cork came of withing 4 hours of receiving the bottle.

20200507_231429Sniff:
Herbal crispness, some cracked black pepper, dried grass, a whiff of smoke and some barley. There’s a very sweet scent behind it all, like moscatel with hints of vanilla.

Sip:
The palate is a bit more gentle compared to expectations based on ABV. More oak than on the nose, and more barley and grass notes. The sweet, moscatel note is smaller here than on the nose, luckily. Some orchard fruits like grapes, pears, but with the typical note of black pepper.

Swallow:
The finish has a bit of an after-burner with the alcohol leaving your mouth. More oaky, more coastal notes and a more prominent role for the peat than there was on the palate.

I think there are two clear sides to this whisky. First of all, it’s a real Talisker with enough black pepper, coastal hints and peat to not leave anybody wanting. Which is a good thing because there have been some shit Talisker releases the last decade.

On the other hand there is that weird sweetness on the nose, which carries on a bit on the palate. When I initially tried it, all three of us trying it pulled up our noses because of it. Another six months in a fairly empty bottle didn’t help, unfortunately.

So, summarizing, it’s a whisky that will not leave you very grumpy, but it also doesn’t really put a smile on your face. And at € 120 a pop, I expect there to be some happiness after a few sips.

84/100

Talisker 15, Diageo Special Releases 2019, 57.3%

Footnote: I’m glad they call these ‘special’ releases, instead of limited releases. There’s over 40,000 bottles of this stuff… I honestly didn’t know the outturn was this huge.

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Ledaig 11, 2009-2020, 54.4% – The Whisky Kingdom

Yet another bottling for the German ‘Wu Dram Clan’. I guess Wu Dram is striving to be forever.

This time it’s a Ledaig, or peated Tobermory if you will, from a bourbon hogshead. I was a bit apprehensive about it since there are quite a few 11-ish year old whiskies from this distillery available, and most of the ones I’ve tried were only so-so.

However, after talking to the guys of the Wu Dram Clan, and some people who had already tried the release, I decided to get in on the action and buy a bottle for a Zoom Tasting, or as I like to call them ‘The #staythefuckhome Tastings’.

What made it more awesome was that upon receiving the bottle I also found a free sample of it, for reviewing purposes.

I don’t know much about Tobermory, or Ledaig, which I will hopefully remedy next year when our family holiday to Scotland can actually happen, and our current plans of spending a week on Mull will come to fruition.

20200506_113520Sniff:
The style of peat, quite mellow and rich for the age, is like it’s a mix of highland peat and coastal peat. There’s some earthiness, and some dry oak. Fairly gentle, with some hay, some lemon balm and heather. The coastal notes of brine and sand are present, but gentle.

Sip:
The palate is fairly sharp and dry, with heathery peat and some earthiness too. Some lemon balm, pithy orange peel with some bitterness.

Swallow:
A warming and dry finish, with warm orange and lemon oil. Hay and oak, with heather and peat. Embers and moss.

Well, apparently there is a huge difference between one cask and the other (duh!). I tried several supposedly comparable whiskies over the last few years and none were as good as this one. It made me even reconsider my general feeling towards the releases from the Mull distillery.

I love that there’s a bit of coastal notes, joined by the heathery peat style of the highlands. It works well and makes it far less of a ‘trying to be like an Islay’ whisky. The citrus notes work well with the other flavors as well, and there’s enough room for the spirit to shine through. A great pick!

90/100

Ledaig 11, 2009-2020, Bourbon Hogshead 700056, 54.4%, The Whisky Kingdom for Wu Dram Clan. Available in Germany for € 125

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Old Pulteney 1990-2015, 53.7% – Cadenhead

I’m looking north again, in regards to whisky. Not necessarily to Scotland, which is entirely north of The Netherlands, but mostly to Orkney, Sutherland, Caithness and the Highland Council regions of Scotland. Distilleries like Balblair, Old Pulteney and Highland Park are the obvious ones that come to mind.

I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for these distilleries, however most don’t show up often in my collection. For Balblair it’s pretty simple why that is: it’s just not that easy to get in The Netherlands. You don’t run into it.

Old Pulteney is available, but the good ones have gotten more expensive and the cheap ones are shit. Or at least, they were shit when I did some investigating of them. The Lighthouse series of around 2013 existed, but I’m not sure why.

Highland Park had gone a bit mental with their viking stuff, and the prices soared too. It seems that recently the waters around Orkney have calmed a bit though. At least some single casks are rather affordable, and the quality of their entry level whiskies seems to have gone up.

What made me focus on these whiskies again, though, is that I’m quietly planning a trip to the region with my in-laws. We’ve been talking about going to Scotland with ‘the men’ for several years now, but between the younger generation having kids the last decade meant that had to be postponed. 2021 seems to be an option, though. Maybe 2022. And then it would be Inverness and up along the coast. At least, that’s what I’m aiming for.

This Old Pulteney then! It’s a Cadenhead bottling, so that heightens my expectation a bit! I’ve had it for years in my cupboard and only now I’m drinking it. I like finding these things. It does mean this is the last month or two of finding things…

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Image from Whiskybase

Sniff:
Quite a bit of vanilla, with a really tiny whiff of smoke in the background. Oak, barley and straw, with fresh apple and pineapple. A tinge of salinity to make for a coastal distillate.

Sip:
The palate is reasonable with not too much bite from the alcohol, even as a first dram. The vanilla pops up first again, with the dry notes from lots of barley and oak right on its heels. The fruit is a bit subdued but still present, more fresh apples and pineapple. The straw notes are quite prominent. Some marram grass and sandy beaches.

Swallow:
The finish continues down the same line, with lots of dryness, a very warming feeling too. Straw, oak, barley, some fruit and some pastry notes.

This is exactly what I expected it to be. A well matured Old Pulteney that shows what the distillery does so very well. Fruity spirit, with grassy notes and some coastal influences make for a well balanced whisky that I wouldn’t mind having a bottle of!

A quick check tells me I can, but not unless I want to part with € 350, and that is too much for what this whisky is. Especially since new ones like it still pop up semi-regularly.

All in all, a cracking whisky that feels rather summery even though it’s from the north of Scotland, with lots of fruity goodness backed up by spirit and cask influences. Luckily, the vanilla isn’t too much of a distraction and makes for a rather nice hint of familiarity, even.

90/100

Old Pulteney 1990-2015, 24yo, Bourbon Barrel, 53.7% – Cadenhead Single Cask

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Springbank 22, 1997-2020, 55.4% – Private cask for HMMJ

Private casks are a bit more rare these days, than they were a decade or so ago. This is in part because it’s much harder to purchase casks from Springbank, and in part because Springbank started buying casks back year ago. Probably when they found out whisky was getting ridiculously popular, and not many distilleries more so than Springbank.

Luckily, not everyone sold their casks and now and then a private cask makes it’s way to market. Of course, I missed this one in the shop and was only made aware of it because of the sample I received from Best of Wines (thanks a million!). It was apparently hard to not miss it, since it sold out almost immediately.

Anyway, a 22 year old Springbank from a refill sherry hogshead. That’s a recipe for success in my book, and I waited a while before tasting it. This is not something to drink on a random Tuesday night, when you might be too tired to properly assess it.

20609_bigSniff:
With the first sniff I get straw and grass and barley. A fairly coastal scent of sand and brine as well. Pear skins, hessian and more graininess. There’s some oaky sweetness with a hint of honey as well. Lemon balm, minerals, sea shells, and a bitter kind of orange.

Sip:
The palate is fairly sharp, but there’s some sweeter orange coming forward right away. There’s quite a lot of oak and barley too, with some waxy lemon peels. Some hints of espresso too, with a very dry texture. The longer you taste it, the more it mellows, and the citrus sweetness becomes a bit more pronounced, although I also keep getting pears on the palate.

Swallow:
The finish is that of a very classical Springbank, with warming hessian notes, a whiff of smoke. The sherry cask adds some orange and lemon, but the spirit keeps pushing the briny notes forward. Sand, sea shells, barley. A long, long finish that keeps switching between the citrusy fruitiness, and the briny flavors of Springbank itself.

Holy shit, this is a cracker. There’s so much going on on the nose and palate that you keep discovering new flavors and therefore it simply grabs your attention. Upon tasting this I had to remind myself to write notes since it’s just so intriguing.

I had to check Whiskybase, where it states that the value of this bottle currently sits just under € 300, and even so it is very much worth it. If it was available now, I’d buy a bottle. What an awesome dram!

92/100

Springbank 22 years old, 1997-2020, Refill Sherry Hogshead 582, ‘Private HMMJ Collection’.

Once again, thanks a million to Best of Wines for sending a sample.

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Glen Moray 24, 1992-2017, 50.9% – Cadenhead

Glen Moray is one of those distilleries that make an amazing spirit, but in their own releases there’s often so much done to it, that it loses its greatness. A quick search on the internet reveals there’s a Cabernet, Sherry, Chardonnay and Port finish. There’s a peated one, one from ‘Old Fired Oak’ a ‘classic’ without an age statement, and a 12 year old.

That’s only counting the official releases under € 30…

Unfortunately, all those releases detract from their regular 12 year old (also mentioned above), which is not a bad whisky at all. Of course, some of those finishes are pretty decent, and some are pretty shit. From my perspective a distillery like Glen Moray should play to their strengths and pick a version or two, and stick with those.

(side note: Laphroaig is one of the other ones also victim to this)

Anyway, I only got Glen Moray on my radar properly when becoming a member of the SMWS about a decade ago. They started releasing some amazing 35 year olds which are all gone now, of course. Luckily, there are some independent bottlers that releases proper, honest versions of this rather honest spirit. At decent ages. At decent ABVs because, let’s face it, Glen Moray needs some strength. It’s spirit is so mellow, that anything under 46% is just too thin.

Also: Don’t get me wrong. I really like Glen Moray. I had an amazing tour and tasting there in 2018, and love their matured bourbon casks. The 25 year old port cask isn’t bad either, but in general, indies are better because their keeping it more straight forward.

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Image from Whiskybase

Sniff:
Very gentle, with light minty notes, barley and white grapes. Fresh cut grass and sand biscuits.

Sip:
Dry and quite intense with a bit of heat from the alcohol. Dry barley, some fresh oak, a hint of vanilla and straw. The biscuits are back and more prominent. This time the grainy wholemeal biscuits that no one actually likes.

Swallow:
A very gentle finish, with barley, bread and straw. Some vanilla again, with grass and biscuits.

Quite gentle, but also quite lovely. It’s biggest benefactor is that Cadenhead kept this in a bourbon cask. This kept Glen Moray playing to its strength, and kept it honest. A proper speysider, with a spirit-forward approach that makes for dangerously easy drinking. It’s just a tad too simple for a higher score though.

86/100

Glen Moray 1992-2017, 24 years old, 3 x Bourbon Hogsheads, 50.9%, Cadenhead’s Small Batch. Available for € 100 in Germany

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Springbank 2001-2010, 8yo, Cognac Cask, 58.5% – Cadenhead

Back in 2010 I went to Scotland for the first time. My wife and I decided to do things right and we had some money in our pockets. I had just sold my Magic: The Gathering collection, something I now regret.

Anyway, we went to Glengoyne, to Arran, to Campbeltown, to Islay. In Campbeltown we had to do the Springbank Gold Tour, as it was called back then, which ended with a tasting in the Cadenhead’s Tastings Room.

The guy who set up the tasting (I forgot his name) asked which bottles from the line-up I already knew, and of the six set out, I already knew five. These were changed into a line-up I only vaguely recall, but this 8 year old Cognac Cask was in it, and we bought it. It was different, not too expensive and rather tasty!

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Not very helpful, with these labels…

Then it ended up in my cupboard for some eight years until I finally opened it around new years in 2018/2019.

20200318_220030Sniff:
Slightly glue like, but with hints of a fruit distillate. Quite a lot of minerals too, slate, iron, copper. Earthy, with soil and moss, and there’s hints of beef stew too. Strangely, but due to the hints of minerals, it stays rather crisp, for the style.

Sip:
The palate is strong, but not burning your mouth too much. Of course, the ABV is noticed, but there’s quite some oak and richness to combat the heat. It’s rather dry, but still fruity, with hints of apple, pear and grape. After that the hessian and beefy notes start coming through. The hints of iron and copper are still present but pushed back further.

Swallow:
The finish mellows quickly, but there’s still some residual heat, and a lot of dryness remaining. You’ll notice the first swallow afterwards. The flavors mix a bit more and go towards a more median flavor, where you still get the beefy richness, but with a hint of smoke coming through, and the iron is there as well.

Generally, I’m not hugely fond of unusual casks and while Cognac is not that unusual, I do categorize it as such. However, after buying initially, and now going through the entire bottle (minus a sample or two) I understand my initial enthusiasm.

The whisky is very layered and rather complex, with lots of things happening at once. This, surprisingly, doesn’t make it an unbalanced drink, and all the flavors and layers nicely complement each other.

Of course, it’s long sold out and through resellers or the secondary market it’s around € 225, while the initial price was more like € 75. A shame, but understandable.

89/100

Springbank 2001-2010, 8 years old, Cognac Cask, Cadenhead Authentic Collection, 58.5%.

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